Saturday, February 19, 2011

Random. Acts. Kindness.

I had no idea it was National Random Acts of Kindness week until my friend Layla told me. But, as you have probably gathered, I'm all over Random. Throw a little Kindness in there and I'm sold.

One of life's greatest pleasures is doing something unexpected for someone. If it can be pulled off off anonymously? Even better.

When El and I talked about teaming up to spread a bit of RAOK love, my mind immediately went to two people in my life, only neither person is actually in my life. They flitted past like glossy hummingbirds. Captivating. Fleeting.

Had I mis-timed my blinks, I may have missed them altogether.

But here's the thing about offering unexpected kindness to a stranger: They'll always blink at just the right time.

These moments really can change a person. It's true. Because when you are clawing at the sky, desperate for some sunshine to seep through the scratch-marks and distract you from the rain that blows sideways in your face, you will see the world differently when Sun reaches down, warm and sure, and pulls you out. You'll not forget. You'll be changed.

The first person I thought of was the lady in the airline uniform. She spilled out compassion for me, the kind that cuts to the chase and takes action. I regret to this day that I didn't get her name. I want to write a letter to her supervisor. I want to hug her on the Oprah show and tell her how much she changed me, in that moment.

The second person I thought of buzzed past several years earlier.

I had been married for less than a year. I was at a week-long training for a horrific job (little did I know) selling insurance. I was cooped up all week long in a room with older men who actually cared about things like annuities and Long Term Care plans.

In the midst of my week, my Dad suddenly became very ill and was hospitalized, a state away. I remember the phone calls, "Should I come?" and the reassurance that I should stay, should finish what I needed to do.

It was believed, at that time, that my Dad might have MS.

It was scary and uncertain and I felt like a little girl, too far from home.

At some point during the week, I received a call. Word got out, to a very small extent.

Later that afternoon a man several places to my left passed me a note.

He was around my Dad's age, a police officer in a nearby town. That's all I knew about him.

Now, I know this: He wrote a note, folded it up, and passed it down the line, Junior-High-School-style.

My heart split wide open that he reached out to me, so alone in that room. To this day, I cannot think about that pink highlighter smiley-face without crying.

I have moved four times since then. I've gained three children. I've made some serious progress on a few wrinkles. And still, that note remains folded up, flanneled at the creases, in my Important drawer.

It reminds me of the simple, profound magnitude of taking a tiny risk and reaching out. What is it that so often holds us back? Why do we convince ourselves that to act might be "stupid" or "weird" or "awkward"? This man didn't sweat it. He wrote a few words, then switched pens and added a special touch of kindness that felt like a kiss on the cheek.

Eight years later, my dad was officially diagnosed: He has MS. There are days that seem OK and there are others that make me feel like that same little girl, way too far from home. Very often, when heaviness threatens to creep over, I remember the kindness of a stranger and that cold lurch of fear backs off, at least a little. That man, whoever he was, moved into my fear and left a bright spot of hope, penned in indelible ink.

I will never forget.

*To read Layla's spin on RAOK, go here.